Following the success of 2019's The Little Match Girl, Farnham-based theatre company Key Players return to the maltings this festive season with their imaginative adaptation of children's classic, Peter Pan. We caught up with Creative Director Sophie Key, ahead of the company's four-day run of performances.
Why did you choose Peter Pan to adapt and direct?
Peter Pan has a special place in my heart. My mum, the actress Patricia Garwood, was playing Wendy in Peter Pan in the West End aged 18, when she met my dad. He couldn’t afford a ticket to the show, but her met her in the theatre bar afterwards and it was love at first sight. They were married for over 50 years. When I discovered that J M Barrie had written Peter Pan from a summer cottage in Tilford, it just felt even more meant to be.
What can audiences expect from this adaption?
I started working on this adaptation during the first lockdown, and the opportunity to have the time to think really carefully about what I wanted this production to achieve was quite a luxury. It also kept me sane to have a creative outlet when so much else around us was shutting down! I decided I wanted this production to honour the essence of the original play whilst putting a new spin on certain elements. I knew from very early on I wanted a female Hook, and wanted to make Wendy a stronger, less deferential character. But I also wanted it to be charming and magical. We have put a lot of emphasis on the fact that Never Land is a figment of the children's imagination, and I really hope that audiences young and old can enjoy becoming absorbed in the worlds of make-believe that the children create.
How do you go about recreating the magic of peter pan on stage?
There are a few challenges when putting on a production of Peter Pan – flying, fighting, scene changes, dancing shadows, crocodiles! I decided early on that I wanted to create the magic of flying using puppets, this fitted in with the concept of the things coming out of the childrens imaginations. I brought in a professional puppetry company ‘Moth Physical Theatre’ to lead a workshop with the actors who will be using the puppets and we have built the flying sequences from there. For the other elements, you’ll have to come and see for yourself!
What’s your process for casting?
When I first started planning this production, we had just finished performing our first Key Player’s production, The Little Match Girl, which was on at the Maltings in December 2019. When you have worked with a great company that has really gelled, you want to keep working with them, and some of the casting automatically fell into place… Ellen Wignall and Abbie Key had played mother and daughter in The Little Match Girl, and they were a natural team to play Mrs Darling and Wendy, and Georgie Pritchard who had played the Little Match Girl immediately struck me for Tink. I’d seen the comic potential in the partnership of Chloe Johnson-Jones and Fran McAteer, so I couldn’t think of a better Hook and Smee. I had also done a bit of talent spotting the previous year and had made a note of Lucy Egan and Nick Lang in the FAOS production of Sister Act, so I invited them to audition and knew I had found my Narrator and Mr Darling.
The new challenge was to find Peter and the rest of the Lost Boys. We held several rounds of auditions, initially on zoom and then in person when things opened up. I was searching for quite a mature Peter, on the cusp of manhood, clinging on to his youth. When Fred Brierley auditioned I felt I had found exactly that, and he had an emotional intelligence that I knew would mean we could take a deep dive into the character of Peter and what he was all about.
What’s your favourite part of the show?
Of course I love the fun and the drama of the fight sequences, and I think we have all enjoyed working on those with our brilliant movement director Beth Williams. However my own personal favourite bit is the simplicity of the very last scene in the Tree Tops, where we realise (if we haven’t already) that our narrator is the grown up Wendy, and she had to grow up and leave Peter and Never Land behind. It strikes to the universal core of the play which is that ‘all children, except one, grow up’ and that leaving the magic and innocence of our childhood behind is quite a wrench. It’s very poignant, and always gives me goose bumps.
If you were a character in the play, who would you be?
Well, given that I am Wendy’s real mother, I think I would have to be Mrs Darling! I think most of the mothers in the audience will relate to her when Wendy turns to her at the end and says ‘He does so need a mother’ and Mrs Darling replies ‘So do you my love.’
Have you got any plans for future adaptations or shows?
I’d really like to develop the idea of community theatre and what it could mean here in Farnham. I feel there’s a place somewhere between amateur dramatics and professional theatre, working with non-professionals alongside professional performers, and bringing in other theatre professionals to help develop acting and theatre skills. So yes, I’m sure there’ll be more productions, but I’d also like there to be more workshops and other projects. I’d love to explore some site-specific work at the Maltings, where you move audiences around the building. I’m really enjoying the developing relationship with the Maltings, and excited about what the future might hold for our partnership!
Pater Pan by Key Players is on from Tue 30 November to Fri 03 December 2021. Book your tickets here.